Dogs, cats, turtles, horses, flying squirrels, guinea pigs and hamsters all gathered outside St. Gregory Cathedral School on Thursday for the annual pet blessing ceremony to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis today.

"Our philosophy is that if it's one of God's creatures, we'll bless it," said Kathy Harry, principal of St. Gregory.

St. Francis of Assisi was known for his love of animals and called them "sisters and brothers," said the Rev. Anthony McLaughlin, rector of the cathedral, who conducted the blessing. The students recited the prayer of St. Francis and McLaughlin sprinkled the animals with holy water.

Francis is also the name the current pope chose for himself when he was elected in March.

"It makes this year even more special," Mrs. Harry said.

The event has been going on for at least two decades, she said.

Caroline, 8, attends St. Gregory and brought her dog, Jenna, to be blessed. St. Francis loved animals and was a good example for everybody, she said.

Caroline attended with her grandfather, Larry Priest. The family involvement is one of a reasons the school holds the event, Mrs. Harry said.

"It's a great thing for children and their parents and grandparents to do together," she said. "It's fun for us. We know these dogs and cats. Just as we've watched these children grow, we've watched their pets grow with them."

Every month the school has a service project, and this month is collecting dog and cat food for the Pets Fur People no-kill animal shelter.

"We know these pets are more than possessions, they are family," said Gayle Helms, executive director of Pets Fur People.


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